Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina at the Dubai Duty Free tennis Championships WTA draw
Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina at the Dubai Duty Free tennis Championships WTA draw Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

There were more reasons than usual to cheer on Saturday as the 22nd WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships got under way in Garhoud at the famous DDF Tennis Stadium.

Two former champions were thrilled to hear the news that this year’s tournament will be at full capacity thanks to the Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management announcing that sports events will be permitted full capacity for spectators from February 15.

Elina Svitolina, the Ukranian world No. 15 and back-to-back DDFTC champion in 2017 and 2018, was on hand to help out with the draw for this year’s competition alongside Romanian former world No. 1 Simona Halep, who has also won twice here — in 2015 and 2020.

“Having the crowds back is really exciting,” Svitolina, who will face a qualifier in the first round, told Gulf News as the qualifiers were in action on five courts at the stadium. “I always love it here and have some amazing memories. It will be great to have the fans backing us once again and winning twice here is something special. This time around I am enjoying my game right now and this place seems to suit my game. With that, the facilities, the atmosphere, it is all coming together.

“I always prepare hard for this one as it is important to me as I look to win a third. We are getting used to the restrictions that have been in place for the past two years but now I can get out and about a bit more and enjoy a bit of the city and the sights.”

Halep was unable to defend her title last year due to injury, but she is now fighting fit and raring to go once again. “I is always great to be here,” the world No. 22, who will play American wildcard Alison Riske in her opener, said. “I have been coming here since the beginning of my career and that first win is still special. To take the title a second time was amazing and I am looking forward to meeting my fans once again. I’m excited for the week ahead — everything in Dubai changes each time we visit and it just gets better and better. I’m looking forward to doing my best.

“Dubai is a great place to get going so early in the season and I get my energy from the crowd, and I have good confidence around this place. I am enjoying my tennis and I enjoy this place, both inside and outside of the court. Dubai is special to me.”

Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice-Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, added: “We are now at 22 years for the women and it is the 30th anniversary for the men’s ATP competition next week. None of all this would be possible without months of organisation from everyone behind the scenes, including the Government, Dubai Police, health authorities, the media and every volunteer. I hope everyone has a wonderful two weeks.”

“The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships was the last sports event here before the lockdown two years ago so it has a nice symmetry to open up to full capacity here once again,” Tournament Director, Salah Tahlak told Gulf News after the WTA draw. “Also, as we celebrate 50 years on the UAE, this will be our 51st competition with the WTA tournament, so it is all falling into place.”